A North Memphis Family’s Struggle To Overcome Poverty

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(Memphis) A heartbreaking reality: half of the families in Shelby County live on $35,000 or less a year, and almost half the children you see in Memphis live in poverty.

In the Mid-South, if you have a minimum wage job, you would need to work 112 hours a week to make a living wage.

Patricia Whiteside invited WREG to walk in her shoes for the day, to see what it was like to live in poverty and in her reality.

Every morning, the single mother of seven starts planning dinner, because if she wants the food stamps she gets each month to last, budgeting is necessary.

Usually Patricia does her grocery shopping and runs errands before work, but last month, she lost her job as a nursing aide because of cutbacks.

"After I lost my job, I thought about the bills. What am I going to do?" she said.

While trying to land new work, she was offered a part-time minimum wage gig at her son's daycare.

"It would be really tight. Very tight," said Patricia.

So after her errands, she and her 2-year-old went to get a physical. If she passes, the job is hers.

She then rushed to pick up her 13- and 15-year-olds from school. They're enrolled in Veritas College Preparatory Charter School in South Memphis.

She said it is a better education and opportunity, but in exchange, she must provide the transportation.

Family dinners are a must for the Whiteside family, so when Patricia got home, she fired up the stove.

Her three adult children still live at the apartment, so they help out. All three are in college, some on scholarships and all working part-time jobs.

As for her other children, they try to find their own space to do homework. Seven kids live in the three bedroom apartment, so space is limited.

In between the chaos, Patricia kept an eye on her kids.

In their neighborhood, she said drug dealers are on every street corner, and gunshots are heard regularly.

"Gangs and drugs, unfortunately, that stuff goes on in schools now," said Kendall Whiteside.

Kendall is a senior at Central High School. He just got a scholarship to University of Tennessee Knoxville, so he hits the books instead of the streets.

"I've got to study. I've got to get stuff done," he said.

"I wish I had made better choices, but now, it is here, and it is time to move forward," said Patricia.

She moves forward by making sure her children learn from her mistakes by going to college, getting good jobs and waiting to have kids until marriage.

"I am glad I have seven kids. I am a proud mother. They are not in jail. I am not a grandmother," said Patricia.

As her children piled up their plates and sat down to eat, they took a moment to pray for a future, because in that moment, their worries and problems seem insignificant. They are thankful for what they have.

"I don't believe money is happiness. Happiness to me is seeing my children laugh," said Patricia.

Since we interviewed the family, Patricia landed the part-time job, but it wasn't enough hours. She plans on going back to college this fall to finish her associate degree and find a job where she no longer must rely on government assistance.


  • Dr. JohnS

    Her children have one great mother and I know they appreciate her. The first step is always the hardest, after that things become easier. This mom took the first step to help her family. We need more like her in Memphis.

  • Just a Thought

    What a wonderful family, keep up the good work and look ahead God will see you all through.

  • In your shoes

    I’m a mother of three, I have been looking for a job for 7 months mind you I have over 90 college credit hours from the University Of Memphis with 11 to go . I’ve applied to The county over 40 times within two years just now got put in the qualified pool for two jobs. It’s hard out here . Nobody wants to hire you. I’ve been a manager, assistant manager , customer service rep, I’ve always worked since I was 15 . Im now 35 . Go figure . I apply for jobs I know I meet criteria for , but I’m always sent a email saying we picked a more qualified candidate. I love her story it inspired me to still stay strong and be thankful for what I do have.

    • jim

      actually who cares I am 62 an worked for 39 years and 7 months, I always made sure of bills coming in and stuff going out. Benefit by taking a listen from the older generation, drop your cell phones you ipads and all the other stuff, you may find out you will be better off financially.


        @jim…………………………….did you hear anything about cell phones, ipads in this conversation? And besides, this is not 1950 where as all you need is a wooden pencil and paper. Times have changed since you came along. You still offer good ethics to follow, but dude get with the times. You had it easy back then. And not making this a race conversation, but if you are white, you had it even easier..right? So tell you stories to your grandchildren, they can appreciate it better. IN MY OPINION

  • There is a better way.

    In your shoes email tnvolsfan32@yahoo.com and I would like to help you with getting a job. I have a couple companies and can help you. There are great people looking for great workers. Hope you have a wonderful afternoon

  • Dennis roy

    With 7 children, you wonder we’re the father(s) are! It is grate she has wonderful children and it looked like one was just a few years old, as my grandmother use to say you made your bed now sleep with the results.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Where to begin? You hold this woman up as an example of poverty? You need to travel the world some. Her existence doesn’t begin to come close to poverty. Did she have a comfortable place to stay that was out of the weather? Yes, probably with assistance from us taxpayers in the form of Section 8 vouchers. Did she and her family have food to eat? Yes, definitely courtesy of SNAP and most likely free school meals for the children still in primary/secondary schooling. Again, courtesy of those of us who pay the bills. Did she have a vehicle to drive? Yes. None of this is poverty. You’ve got to be kidding me. Are we so far gone as a nation of self-reliant people loathe to demand support from others for our stupid choices that we think this woman and her family are worthy of our pity? When, over the 17-ish years that she was pumping out child after child did this cease to be HER problem and become OUR problem to provide for her? If terrible choices and rotten decisions cease to have real negative consequences as it has in this case, all you get are platitudes about “not making the same choices I made”. When did she decide to stop making these bad choices? About two years ago, from the ages in the article. There’s a tremendous amount of real poverty all over the world, but this isn’t it.

  • sandy pline

    This youg lady is a very strong woman, I really dont care about where the fathers are. We all have made mistakes and have skeletons in our closet. God will be the judge. It’s not about the color of her skin and the choices she made. My hat goes off to her. Wow 7 kids other woman cant keep up with there one.

    • concerned citizen

      I really DO care about where the fathers are. I’m forced by the government to provide for this family exactly because the government has decided it’s ok to not know where these fathers are. When the government stops picking my pocket and taking money I need to provide for MY family, then I won’t care where the fathers are. Until that time, I want these “fathers” to provide for the children they created and get the government out of that line of work! I think it’s nice that you’re so generous with other people’s money…

  • disgustedblackwoman

    Kudos to all of your comments. Concerned citizen you sound angry and bitter I do understand I am a divorced mother of 5 I want to know where his sorry butt is as well and my kids dad as well he us legally supposed to give $600 per month I don’t see 60 cents where is the law to hold these men accountable but we crucify the women and the Children you can’t kick these women around when they are already down that’s not right and for the other comment there dies come a time when you can’t worry where the man is you just did what you have to do to survive I’ve cried begged fought argued to the men and the system only to get looked at and talked to like Nothing so who are you or me to judge I struggle everyday by myself with my children I know the feeling. Oh by the way I’ve not been with my spouse for 8 years and Mlg&w is holding me the woman responsible for a bill he had 3 Years ago so once again society is putting everything on the woman’s shoulders where is the justice in that she’s doing the best she can good story

    • Concerned Citizen

      I’m sorry the legal system has let you down! A man should provide for his family without the courts, but if he’s still a boy and not a man, the courts should make him do what’s right. Angry, yes. Bitter, no. People who don’t like my opinions are entitled to not listen. However, if I’m paying her bills due to her irresponsible behavior, I’ve earned the right to be angry and more. As someone else pointed out, they have sodas at dinner and spotless expensive sneakers, but are on food stamps?! It’s over for us as a country because we’ve now accumulated more ticks than the dog has room for. The only reason things are still appearing normal is that the government is pumping fake money into the system every month. Wait until they stop doing that and inflation kicks in. Once we have to use most or all of government revenues to pay for interest on the debt and this woman doesn’t get her SNAP money, or SS money or Section 8 money, what do you think will happen? There’s zero common sense in either government or the public at large. You think I’m “bitter” because I object having to pay for this woman’s continual abysmal choices in life, but it’s ok for her to have four adults in the house not working full time while living off my taxes and serving sodas with dinner? Good night, America…

  • working mother

    I applaud this mother. Granted, I too wish I did not have to support her bad decisions but who hasn’t mde bad decisions before? She is doing everything in her power to give her kids a better life and to teach them to be guided by that strict moral ruler you so righteously measure her against. Gunz45 – I would tell you to go to hell but it’s obvious you have akready made reservations. Dennis Roy- the saying is “You’ve made your bed, now sleep in it.” And dear ignorant Jim – if you retired at 62 you got out as soon as you possibly could and although you have had significant years to learn, you can’t even spell correctly. I bet even her youngest school aged child can do better. Her house is clean, her kids well cared for and she doesn’t enjoy the “luxury” of working part-time. Her job loss was the result of cutbacks. Who keeps your house clean and you fed? Let me guess, you have a wife who has worked for years AND cleaned the house, raised the kids and now puts up with your sorry attitude on a full time basis.

  • Mad in Memphis

    I have several issues with this story. One, in the video one of the older boys shows you his very expensive pair of Jordan’s. If they are struggling so hard how can he afford those $100 shoes? Two, they had bottled water and canned Cokes on the table. I can’t afford those. Three, there are four adults in that house and four of them should be working to help support their family. Yes, I see the need for them to go to college but a lot of people work their way through college. Four, they are talking about how they have to struggle and budget to stretch $800 a month in food stamps. Oh my goodness! I can’t even imagine spending that much on food in a month. That is more than most people make in a week. Sure she has a large family but if you shop smart that money will feed two families. That’s a crazy large amount. Five, although I’m very proud that her two middle children have the opportunity to go to such a good school it also limits her because she has to find a job where she can drive them back and forth to school. That limits her from getting a full time job. I’m sorry but I don’t feel sorry for this family because they can do things a little differently to get themselves out of this situation. When I first started out on my own I struggled for the first year, I had to have help but I fought like the dickens to make a better way for myself and my children. It can be done. This story made me angry. They may not be living in the best neighborhood but they had a lot more going for them than a lot people do.

  • Im just saying

    Working mother i really enjoyed your comment. The young man with the jordons shoes says if you heard has a shoe cleaning business. In society today we are so quick to judge. for every negotive comment about this mother you are going to reap it. we cannot say what or think she is going through. this is her story not your own. we can only pray and hope the best for the young lady and her family. apparently she doesn’t have thug kids and sleeping around for money like the typical women does. we all need some Jesus and some help here or there. you shall reap what you sow in your words thoughts or deeds. God bless her and her beautiful family she need a step and hand up not a step down on her face. because who know you may be next.

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